by Robert Hastings
The atomic weapons test site first known as the Nevada Proving Ground—later renamed the Nevada Test Site—was established by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1951. Most of the tests occurred some 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, at a dry lake bed called Yucca Flat, while nearby Indian Springs Air Force Base provided logistical support for the military and civilian personnel engaged in them.
Throughout the 1950s, the U.S. military and AEC detonated a series of atomic and small thermonuclear “devices” to test the performance of various weapon designs and other technical aspects, including their optimum killing capacity. Each detonation was euphemistically called a “shot” and those involved with the tests referred to their work as “firing off shots.” Some of the devices were dropped by U.S. Air Force bombers, others were mounted on tall metal towers, and one was fashioned into a projectile and fired from a cannon.
During my 1998 interview with former AEC weapons-stockpiling supervisor Chester W. Lytle, he said he had been informed that sightings of strange aerial objects had been reported by employees of EG&G Corporation, the civilian company contracted by the U.S. government to shoot motion picture films of its atomic and thermonuclear weapons tests in Nevada and the Pacific. “Some of our [photographic aircraft] pilots saw UFOs while we were firing in the desert of Nevada, but they couldn’t talk about it,” he said. Unfortunately, Lytle had not been directly involved with the testing program, and because so many years had passed, he could not remember any details.
Howard said that while at home one evening, he had been unexpectedly paid a visit by a colleague, David Middleton, who had just returned from the by-then renamed Nevada Test Site where he had been a member of a team of specialists monitoring the detonation of a tower-mounted atomic device.
According to Middleton, he had witnessed a nearly inconceivable event: A few hours prior to the test, he and several other technical personnel had observed two silver-colored, disc-shaped craft racing across the sky. Seconds later, the UFOs swooped down and began to maneuver near the detonation tower. As the assembled team watched in shocked disbelief, the objects actually “flew tight circles” around the tower before zooming off at high velocity. Middleton said that the test was immediately postponed by the senior Atomic Energy Commission personnel who were present.
The day after Burgess was told of this incident, Middleton paid him another unexpected visit, this time at his office. Earlier that morning, Middleton, as well as the other Sandia Lab technicians who had witnessed the incident, had been formally debriefed and sworn to secrecy about it. Burgess told me that Middleton had nervously pleaded with him to never repeat the conversation of the previous evening. Burgess honored that request until he finally told me the story some thirty years later.
At the end of our conversation, Burgess said that David Middleton was deceased and, therefore, obviously unavailable for comment. In the years since, I have attempted to locate other individuals who were present for the dramatic event described by Middleton, without success.
A third individual, Walter C. Levine, who was at the Nevada Test Site for the “Teapot” series of atomic tests, told me, “In 1955, I was at Indian Springs [AFB]. I was an Airman 2nd Class, an Air Policeman with the 4935th Special Weapons Group. We all had Q-clearances. [The officers] came around and said that they were going to pick certain men who would be transferred, temporarily, to the Ground Observer Corps. I was one of those chosen.
“There was a little building near the runway, really just a wooden shack, that was pitch black inside, with one little light. There was a telephone in there and also a scope—a range-finder type of instrument—set up on a tripod. You looked down the center of it, where there was a grid, these squares that were superimposed over the sky. It was all night duty [for me]. When it got dark, you went out there and scanned the skies. Other guys were there during the day. This was while the [weapons] tests were going on.
“If you saw anything moving in the sky, you would chart it with this range-finder and estimate the distance and the direction it was headed. Then you would pick up the phone and relay what you saw, the time it occurred and so on, to this male voice on the other end.
“When this [temporary assignment] was all over, we got promotion certificates that summarized the total time we were out there observing. They were issued a few months after the assignment was over. I have one right here, dated August of 1955, signed by a captain, recording the first 100 hours. This one is dated October of 1955, and says I had a total of 1,250 hours of observation time in that little shack during the Teapot tests.
“Now, almost all of the lights that I saw looked like round objects. But I think some of them looked square. They weren’t that close. You couldn’t see any kind of craft, just bright flying objects. Some were red; others were—I couldn’t really tell—white or yellow. Some had [smaller] lights on them, for example, red and white or red and orange. But they would be moving straight ahead and then violently move to one side or the other. They would make 90-degree turns! You know, immediately change direction and then accelerate and shoot out of sight, just like that! Very, very fast. They were definitely not stars. They mainly moved from south-to-north. I’m positive about that. The tests were at Yucca Flat, uh, 30 miles or so northwest of the base. They were doing tower bursts and airdrops from B-36s.”
I asked Levine if any of the UFOs had hovered. He replied, “No, I don’t remember that.” I asked him to estimate the approximate number of times he saw the objects. “I couldn’t give you the [exact] count but, believe me, there were numerous occasions. We didn’t see them every night, obviously, but I would guess it was dozens of times. But, during the entire time I was at Indian Springs, from September of 1954 to February of ’57, I only saw these things after the Teapot tests. The rest of the time, I had other assignments. [But the sightings were] always after the shots, hours later, or maybe a day or two later. I don’t recall seeing anything right before the shots or during the shots.”
I asked Levine if he ever observed military aircraft pursuing the objects. He said, “No, I never saw that. The objects were always up there alone. They never stayed around long. They were only there for, maybe, four or five minutes at the most, then they were gone.”
Wondering if Levine had seen any of the by-then widely-reported “green fireballs,” I asked him whether any of the UFOs appeared as green or blue-green meteors. He replied, “No, not that I recall. Not that color, and they didn’t leave a comet or meteor-like trail.”
He continued, “Anyway, once we made an observation, we charted it on paper, with hand-written notes. It was like a little note pad. You know, the time, the distance, the estimated altitude, the direction it was heading, and so forth. But those [summaries] were never turned in. They were destroyed before we left the shack. We threw them in a little trash can and burned them. We just used them to report what we saw to the guy on the telephone. He never asked any questions. He just took the information and, probably, forwarded it to someone. We never knew who those guys on the phone were. I don’t even know if they were on the base. And there wasn’t a phone-ring before they picked up. That was strange to me.”
I asked Levine how many men in his unit were tapped for the Ground Observer duty. He said, “I knew of at least three, besides me. One was Allen Anderson; one was Wayne Baker. Then my friend, Joe Arvayo. He’s dead now. I don’t know where the other two are nowadays. There probably were more guys than that involved, but I’m not sure.”
I asked Levine if he and the others ever talked among themselves about the objects they saw, when they were off duty. He replied, “Well, they told us not to talk about it—they always told us that, every time we reported one—but we did sometimes. We talked about ‘flying saucers’ when no one else was around. You know, a lot of people back then would pooh-pooh talk like that. But my outlook, even back then, was that we can’t be the only planet in the universe with intelligent life on it.”
He continued, “But Baker was a dyed-in-the-wool Baptist from Tennessee. He didn’t believe in any of that stuff, you know, life out there in space. Anderson kind of went along with Wayne. He used to say, ‘I never saw a flying saucer, so I don’t know [if they exist].’ But I would say, ‘What do you think we’ve been looking at?! Did you ever see a plane do the kind of things [those objects] were doing?!’ But we all saw them, all four of us. When we left that assignment, we had to sign these papers—not only about the aerial-scoping, but everything else that went on at the base—saying that we wouldn’t talk about it for 20 years.”
A second article about UFO sightings during atomic testing in Nevada will be published in the months ahead, discussing the apparent correlation between drifting radioactive clouds and repeated sightings of the mysterious green fireballs, whose trajectories mimicked the paths of wind-borne fallout after several shots. This research, conducted by Daniel Wilson over the past several years, is quite intriguing and almost unknown, even to those well-versed in other aspects of the UFO phenomenon.